There Are No Serpents in Heaven
by Swylmar S. Ferreira
Translated by Toshiya Kamei
Other TTTV stories by Swylmar S. Ferreira
Another day dawns. As usual, I head toward the window in my secular dwelling. Again, as usual, I’ll appreciate the inevitable ascent of the sun above the horizon. My steps are still steady as I climb the three flights of stairs that separate the inner room from the covered porch. The temperature is mild and I savor the rare plateau winds blowing from the mainland, caressing my face and making what’s left of my hair dance restlessly in the air. I grin in spite of myself and reach out in a vain attempt to grasp Aeolus’s breath.
The sun continues its inexorable rise on the horizon and crosses the imaginary line around Earth. It has been part of my routine for so long that I don’t remember exactly how long ago it started.
I must confess I stopped counting days, months, and years when the human era ended, leaving me with only silence. Whenever I recall it, a bitter taste fills my mouth.
It’s time to go to the other end of my house. I cross the large hall and walk toward the staircase that leads me to the watchtower, where I’ll observe the continental expanse or the slope from where the sea receded one day.
I go down.
As the burnished stone footbridge ends, I bury my feet in the red sands that lead nowhere. I take a deep breath and extract from my memory images of waves crashing against the sandy beach, coconuts, trees, and shrubs swaying in the breeze.
I find no solace in remembering. I don’t feel a thing. Sometimes it seems that they took away everything they could find from me. The longing alone has remained.
There is no life beside me. Here stands only the millennial house, but like everything else that once existed, it will also be gone someday.
I stand behind a hill and let my imagination play tricks on me. I have the feeling that a small animal, a rodent perhaps, scurries around me. Should I be scared? Then my mouth widens into an imitation of a smile.
There are many monologues still alive.
“Remember when they left? How did those left behind suffer?”
“Remember the plague?” I ask myself.
I crouch, grasp a handful of fine red sand, and let it slip through my fingers, hundreds of grains at a time, until it becomes one.
“Of course I do,” I answer. “The Perseus flu.”
I stand on the hill, rub my hands together to brush away the sand, and remember.
Perseus, one of the most advanced spacecraft humans had ever built, a research-cum-cargo vessel, had on board a crew of hundreds.
One day she returned to the lunar spaceport with some sick crew members. What initially seemed like a simple flu that would be dealt with via disinfection and quarantine caused chaos. Shortly thereafter, the disease seemed to have been eradicated since it no longer appeared on the medical probes. Quite the contrary, in fact. It returned again and again, at times uninterruptedly but always much more violent.
It led to the deaths of hundreds of millions in its two initial stages. But the worst was the third stage of the disease, which occurred at the nanovirus level and spread throughout all the living species on Earth.
As our scientists failed to reverse the situation, a race for the salvation of the species began. We transferred a small part of the population to the existing colonies and formed others in a hurry. Just a vain attempt to survive, to save our species.
Perhaps the problem is over for those who have gone, trying to survive in new worlds. On second thought, it was over for those who stayed. It was the end.
For centuries, that had been humanity’s great fear. The final judgment so many great civilizations feared.
A strong gust brings me back to reality. I look around and see only the immensity.
“My mouth tastes bitter again.” I stare down at my shadow on the sands. “It’s better this way.”
The stairs seem steeper as I climb. They seem so every day, at least when I decide to walk farther.
There have been times when I walked for days on end in one direction. For no purpose.
Can I consider my prolonged life a punishment? I don’t know.
Like Ahasverus, I saw the evolution of man for centuries, but as Klaatu was reborn, I experienced and understood the inadequacy of our race, the unpreparedness that brought us to an end. I hardly remember how it happened. No matter. I stayed.
I cross the passageway leading to the main living area and walk toward the granite-colored couches. My legs ache and I need to rest. I pick up a jug, pour water into a glass, and take a sip. Scarcity.
“Punishment. Yes,” I mumble, staring into the large, discolored hall.
Punishment for a man who once tried to defy death. Now I know even noble motives didn’t justify audacity. I aimed to improve people’s health and perhaps even give humanity more days, as millions perished in these terrible times.
“Punishment. Yes, it was a punishment.”
I was young and had been invited by one of my professors to work on a project, and I did so with enthusiasm. I devoted all my time to genetic research with medical gases and the genetic recovery of tissues. As time passed, I became ever more inclined to stay overnight at the lab for several days and weeks. My colleagues who at first laughed at me began to show concern. The dedication made me delve ever deeper and deeper into my research, and the inevitable happened. In a foolish accident, I was exposed to one of the most advanced experiments.
They said I had been in a coma for years. All my work and dedication, all for nothing. When I awoke, that kind of research was forbidden. It had become inappropriate, incorrect.
It’s strange to recall right now. The first few months and years were a lot of fun. I still had my laurels from the experiment. Everyone wanted to know how I got the correct sequence of medical gases that changed a tiny part of my DNA. I agreed with most of the studies they set out to do, and I helped increase humanity’s lifespan by more than fifty percent, but that was not enough. Many blamed me when their loved ones died. They cursed me for not aging a single day.
I break off the reverie of memories. I go to the window, look out on a cold night, and see what I have left.
I sit down again and recall the day I made the decision to leave behind the city where I lived and “disappear.” I went to other continents, where I went through many lives during the centuries I stayed there. When I returned to my land, no one knew me. Since that time I have lived in the shadows without knowing who I was.
But I did know. I knew what I had lost. I had lost the friends I made all over the world, the loves I had, the beloved cities, and, above all, the human being I was and the life I had.
I stopped counting time a millennium ago. I stopped torturing myself. I try to get used to the punishment of aging slowly.
I feel like the serpent that was expelled from paradise.
I wake up when the sun is high. I must get ready. Every day I hope to have permission from the Creator to follow humans.
I know I age faster now and still want to leave behind a legacy of what was once my species. Every day, I go to the room where I keep all the information I have acquired from humanity, our history, and our extraordinary knowledge for another race our planet may eventually produce, or for others who may arrive here from other worlds.
Now, as another day ends, I gaze up at the stars. My body trembles from the cold, but I look for a specific place, almost hidden: the constellation of Ophiuchus. I remember the Greek myths about creation, about the times when the gods and mortals roamed Earth together, about betrayal, jealousy, and revenge.
I feel like Asclepius who used medicine and his magical powers to resurrect the dead, therefore receiving his punishment. My punishment, unlike the mythological character’s, is life.
Another legend comes to mind: Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Temptation. The expulsion from Paradise. Eternal punishment for the serpent, for man.
The bitter taste comes back in my mouth. I watch dark clouds taking over the sky as lightning begins to pierce it on all sides doing a dance, a grand spectacle to my tired eyes. Every night, I hope to be struck by lightning or something, to finally be part of the stars.
But what nonsense. Now, there are no serpents in heaven.